On March 25, New Brunswick Health Minister Russell King introduced legislation to seize control of the province’s thirty-three hospitals. Just over a week later, the bill had passed through its three readings and become law. The hospital boards had ceased to exist, to be replaced by regional boards under the direction of the Health Minister when these are set up.
Given the haste with which the legislation was passed through, and the lack of consultation before it was brought forward, hospitals are in a state of complete confusion. Among the most concerned are the orders of nuns which run seven of the hospitals.
NDP leader Elizabeth Weir pointed out that the government could summarily seize these hospitals under the bill.
“ This bill represents a hostile takeover of private property in this province,” she said.
Lorraine Mills, Executive Director of the Catholic Health Association in the province, pointed out that the Sisters have been the founders of medicine in New Brunswick and asked how they could continue to carry out their mission if they did not have authority to appoint their own boards and administration.
Archbishop Donat Chiasson of Montcon called the government’s move “ dictatorial.”
Bishop Troy of Saint John declared in a March 31 letter to the premier that the government had unilaterally terminated the partnership between itself and the religious orders in the health care sector.
McKenna’s government “denies the right of the Catholic hospital to preserve and promote its Catholic character and philosophy,” he stated.
A letter which Premier McKenna sent to Sister Dora Bourgeois of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Dalhousie, was meant to assure her of protection for Catholic hospitals. But it is a masterpiece of vagueness, a perfect example of political rhetoric:
“ I understand there is a formula that can be implemented through the by-laws of hospital corporations that can protect the philosophy and ownership of sponsoring bodies if they so wish.”
The legislation gives no assurances at all. As Theresa Nowlan, editor of the weekly The New Freeman points out, there is nothing to prevent a regional board from compelling a Catholic hospital to perform abortions and sterilizations.
The Health Minister says that they “will be consulted” about administrative appointments, but there is no guarantee that their wishes will be attended to. The other hospitals are in as confused a state as the Catholic hospitals.
There is only one word for this type of action—tyranny. It does not matter whether the action is performed by a democratically elected government or not: it is still tyrannical.
Deputy Minister of Health Jean-Guy Finn argues that since the province pays 100 per cent of the costs it should have control. But the money comes from the tax payers and there is no reason for their local boards to be summarily dismissed by the provincial government. The government is choking off the contributions which those who know the local conditions can make.
One other point. There has not been a mention of this affair in the Ontario daily press.